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Translation of Cartoonyms as a Vocabulary Teaching Technique

through Associations and Context in an Inclusive Educational


Werona Krl-Gierat


With reference to studies related to words and the way their meaning is acquired,
many standpoints may be presented. One of them explains that learning word
meanings can be viewed as an association task whereby an unknown words
meaning can become known by being presented in connection with a word of a
similar meaning (Brown 1958; Rumelhart Lindsay Norman 1972; Simon
Feigenbaum 1964; Wickelgren 1972; Gripe Arnold 1979, 281). Also, it has been
demonstrated that a familiar context facilitates vocabulary development and retention
(Wittrock, Marks, and Doctorow 1975).
Translation of familiar animated cartoon character names cartoonyms
(Balteiro 2013, 883) - can be used in helping young learners with Special
Educational Needs (SEN) develop foreign language (FL) vocabulary through
associations and context. Since the creation of cartoonyms is usually semantically
motivated, they are particularly descriptive in nature and suitable to the genre in
which they are used. Cartoonyms are very often charactonyms, or or charactoons,
namely names suggesting a distinctive trait of a given character (Balteiro 2013).
Also, cartoons are generally liked by children, being a part of their daily lives.

1 Semantic Load of Cartoonyms

My name is Alice, but

Its a stupid name enough! Humpty Dumpty
interrupted impatiently: What does it mean?
Must a name mean something? Alice asked
Of course it must, Humpty Dumpty said with a short
laugh: my name means the shape I am and a good
handsome shape it is, too. With a name like yours, you
might be any shape, almost

When I use a word, Humpty Dumpty said in a rather

scornful tone, it is just what I choose it to mean
neither more or less.

(Carroll 1871, emphasis added)

Humpty Dumpty is a character in popular English nursery rhymes. This
anthropomorphic egg also appears in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass
(1871), where he discusses semantics and pragmatics with Alice. Referring to the
above cited quotation, in fiction, and also films/cartoons, the characters names
might appear to the audience or readers as secondary because people tend to
concentrate on the action, on what is happening, or on what is being narrated.
However, most of those proper names convey a message to the audience and
have a function that makes them unconsciously work in the audiences mind. In
many cases, there is great effort on the creators part to provide characters with a
name which fits the characters features and roles within the narrative (be this
a novel, a cartoon, a TV series, etc.) (Balteiro 2013, 887-888, emphasis added).

Figure 1 Characters proper names understood as umbrella terms (own elaboration)

From what can be seen on the graph, characters proper names may be considered
umbrella terms. As Barthes (1975, 105) encapsulates, they constitute a unity of
characteristic traits. Bertills (2003, 54) is in line with this view describes them in
terms of networks of character-traits, which stand for all the characters traits,
descriptions and characteristics.
Overall, characters proper names in childrens fiction may be qualified as
semantically loaded. Being dense signifiers, they strongly contribute to the
childrens understanding of the message as well as to their identification with the
characters (Balteiro 2013, 889).
Typically, characters in childrens fiction are personalised animals, animated
toys or fantasy creatures. Human nature is attributed to them they often behave
and speak like youngsters. As Stephens (1992 in Balteiro 2013, 889) explains,
names operate in conjunction with visual messages transmitted by illustrations.
Based on this observation, Balteiro (2013, 889) accurately concludes that the
characters proper names should be generally more transparent and, in animated

cartoons, fit the illustration or image identifying the character as exhaustibly as
possible, that is, they should be, and in fact are, less arbitrary than other proper

2 Study

The main focus of the vocabulary teaching technique (translation) presented in this
paper is placed on semantic and contextual associations, since very often there
are semantic motivations behind the coining of names for fictional characters proper
names, just like in fairy tales. As Balteiro observes, (2013, 890) creators make great
efforts to produce well-formed, easy to pronounce, semantically expressive and
catchy proper names which also fit other requirements, such as matching the plot
and the images. Charactonyms tend to be of a particularly descriptive, expressive,
and meaningful nature. Charactonyms in popular cartoons addressed to children for
the purposes of this study will be called cartoonyms or charactoons. The examples
are Disney or Hanna-Barbera characters.
Subjects for the study included 33 third-grade pupils attending an inclusive
primary school in Krakw, Poland. 23 pupils (70%) represented a wide range of
Special Educational Needs and thus the classes were considered heterogeneous
groups. The results of 6 pupils (with coded names) having a Statement of Need for
Special Education will be presented. Two children attended grade 3 a: Monika (with
mild intellectual disability), Olek (with physical disability) and four from grade 3 b:
Jacek (with behavioural disorders), Ela (with behavioural disorders), Anita (with mild
intellectual disability), Dominika (with physical disability).
When it comes to the choice of lexical items for the purposes of the study,
the content to be taught consisted of nine cartoonyms - one adjective (adj.) and eight
nouns (N):

Goofy (adj., zwariowany in Polish),

Daisy (N, Pol. stokrotka),
Tom (N, Pol. kocur),
Chip (N, Pol. frytka),
Dale (N, Pol. dolina),
Pixie (N, Pol. skrzat),
Dixie (N, Pol. dolina),
Tamp (N, Pol. wczga),
Lady (N, Pol. dama).

These names would very often fit and complement the characters traits or images
as well as the storyline in the selected fragments of animated cartoons. Referring to
Balteiro (2013, 889-890), the cartoonyms in the study agree with these peculiarities
and illustrations. At the same time they are: expressive, descriptive, readable,
pronounceable, understandable and easy to remember for children.

During the English lesson when the vocabulary teaching technique involving
translation was tested, the following procedure of five steps was adopted:

1 Short talk, even in the mother tongue, about the popular cartoons.
Asking whether children know the characters, whether they remember they names.
2 Watching short clips with each character, paying attention to how they
behave, to their appearance.
It was expected that watching short clips form the well-known TV cartoons
would help children to easily interpret and fully understand the semantically loaded
message compressed in the characters names.
3 Using flashcards to revise the names of the characters and giving
Polish translation (mother tongue, L1), trying to explain the reasons why a given
character has such a name. Creating semantic and contextual associations.
The association technique pairs the unknown word with a familiar word in the
mother tongue. The task requires the subjects to memorize the pairings and to able
to translate the words from FL to L1 and vice versa. This process is expected to be
facilitated due to associations (name = e.g. personality traits or other) and context
(presentation of the video cartoon).
4 Repetitions.
5 Translation tests.

Figure 2 A pupil taking the written

translation test from English to Polish

Two translation tests were administered, one written (translation from English into
Polish) and one oral (from Polish into English, prompted by the flashcards). Subjects
could score 1 point per each correct translation (max. 9 = 100 %) or 0,5 point in the
case of mispronunciation. Polish spelling was not evaluated, thus no points were
Results of the study are presented below in a tabular form. During the tests
different behaviours of the selected cases of children with Special Educational
Needs were observed.

In the oral translation test from Polish into English Monika (with mild
intellectual disability) would point to appropriate flashcards but did not remember all
the characters names. She also confused Daisy with Lady. Her result in this part
was 44 %. On the other hand, in the written translation test from English into Polish
she scored 9 points (100 %). Her handwriting was unclear, but decipherable.
Olek (with physical disability) scored 100 % in the oral test, but behavioural
problems were observed in the written part. He gave back a rucked up uncompleted
test. As a consequence, his score was 0 %, but actually it was not evident whether
he knew the Polish equivalents of the English names of not.
In the oral translation test Ela (with behavioural disorders) called Lady as
Tamp and confused Pixie with Mixel (an invented name). Similarly to Monika, the girl
manifested some difficulties with the Polish spelling, but since these problems were
not taken into account by the researcher, her final score equalled 100 %.
Anitas results are put into brackets, since she was not autonomous enough.
In the oral test she would just repeat the names after the researcher, which in her
case should also be considered an achievement. On account of her mild intellectual
disability, one modification was introduced in the written test. She got the word cards
with the Polish translation of the characters names. She was able to match 7 of
them correctly (78 %).
Dominika (with physical disability) scored 33 % in the oral and 100 % in the
written translation tests, although she had some problems with L1 spelling.
Jacek (with behavioural disorders) scored 89 % in the oral test. The boy
confused Dixie with Pixie. He remembered all the Polish equivalents in the written
test (100 %).


TEST (English into Polish) (Polish into English)
Mean scores of 98 % 98 %
children without
SEN (descriptive H = 100 % H = 100 %
statistics) L = 89 % L = 89 %
M = 100 % M = 100 %

Monika 100 % 44 %

Olek 0% 100 %

Figure 3 Results of grade 3 a

TEST (English into Polish) (Polish into English)
Mean scores of 100 % 100 %
children without
SEN (descriptive H = 100 % H = 100 %
statistics) L = 100 % L = 100 %
M = 100 % M = 100 %

Ela 100 % 44 %

Anita (78 %) (0 %)

Dominika 100 % 33 %

Jacek 100 % 89 %

Figure 4 Results of grade 3 b

The examination of the means reveals the consistent effectiveness of using

cartoonyms as a vocabulary teaching technique trough associations and context in
inclusive lower primary classrooms. It was concluded that the presented vocabulary
teaching technique turned out to be very effective, both in the English Polish and
Polish English translation, though children without special educational needs
(SEN) performed significantly better in the Polish English oral translation test than
young learners with SEN.

3 Pedagogical implications

The implications for English language teachers as indicated by the present study
seem to be very practical. First and foremost, word meanings should be introduced
in an appropriate contextual setting. Moreover, educators ought to ensure that this
context is familiar. Allowing for word connotation means that the translation process
with its many components can be viewed as cognitive-associative task and should
be further explored in order to be effectively applied in the foreign language (not
only) inclusive classrooms.

Works Cited

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Bertills, Y. (2003). Beyond Identification. Proper Names in Childrens Literature. Abo: Abo Academi
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Translation of Cartoonyms as a Vocabulary Teaching Technique through
Associations and Context in an Inclusive Educational Setting

The present article aims at providing an example of using popular animated cartoons
in teaching foreign vocabulary to lower primary young learners, both with and without
Special Educational Needs. The cartoonyms selected for the purposes of the study
carry a particular meaning, which either reflect the bearers personality traits or can
be associated otherwise. The results obtained can be further discussed to draw
methodological conclusions and discern practical pedagogical implications of using
translation for Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) to children in
inclusive classes.

About the Author

Werona Krl-Gierat is an academic at the Pedagogical University of Cracow, Poland.

Her main area of research interest is teaching foreign languages, especially English,
to learners with Special Educational Needs. She also graduated from Jagiellonian
University where she studied Romance Languages and Cultures and specialised in
audiovisual translation.